OPEC deal can work, but ‘We tend to cheat,’ Al-Naimi says

By Catherine Traywick on 12/2/2016

WASHINGTON (Bloomberg) -- OPEC’s agreement to cut production for the first time in eight years has the potential to balance the oil market, as long as everyone sticks to it, former Saudi Arabia Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi said.

"The only tool they have is to constrain production," al-Naimi said of OPEC at an event in Washington, D.C. "The unfortunate part is we tend to cheat."

OPEC on Wednesday agreed to cut production by 1.2 MMbpd, while Russia and other oil producers committed to reducing their own output by another 600,000. The deal spearheaded by Saudi Arabian Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih represents a departure from the pump-at-will policy promoted by al-Naimi when he was oil minister. OPEC adopted that policy in 2014.

Remarking on his approach, al-Naimi said he wasn’t opposed to production cuts in 2014, as long as everyone participated. They wouldn’t, he said. "There’s not much you can do if there is no maximum cooperation between the producers."

He also expressed skepticism that Russia, considered a wildcard during talks, would follow through on its promise to reduce output. "Will Russia cut 300,000?" he said. "I don’t know. In the past, they didn’t."

Saudi Arabia still has production potential, according to al-Naimi. During a panel discussion with Hess Corp. CEO John Hess and former Schlumberger Ltd. CEO Andrew Gould, al-Naimi said his country has untapped shale-oil and gas reserves, and advancing technologies would only bring shale production costs lower.

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